Court ruling casts doubt on UK Brexit timetable

By on 04/11/2016
UK Supreme Court

The UK government’s deadline for beginning the process of leaving the European Union looks in doubt following a court ruling that Parliament must vote to begin the exit process.

Three High Court judges yesterday ruled that the government cannot press ahead with its plan to invoke Article 50, the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, without votes in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

The government has already said it will appeal the ruling, and a Supreme Court hearing has been scheduled for 7-8 December. Prime Minister Theresa May was widely reported this morning to be planning a discussion with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker later today in which she will insist her timetable for triggering Article 50 before March 2017 is still on track.

But for that to be the case, observers have said the government must act swiftly to introduce a bill on its Article 50 intentions for Parliament to debate, in preparation for an unsuccessful appeal.

A briefing note published by the Institute for Government (IfG) think tank quoted one legal source, University College London law professor Jeff King, who said that as a successful appeal was unlikely, “the government had best get busy with drafting a bill”.

IfG researcher Dr Hannah White said that if May wants to stick to her self-imposed March 2017 deadline, this new bill will have to be introduced “as soon as possible”.

“Given the government has only a slim majority in the House of Commons and no majority in the House of Lords, the time it will take for the bill to pass is uncertain. While it is possible for legislation to be passed quickly in an emergency, this would require the consent of both houses. But Parliament will want to ensure that there is time for the bill to receive proper scrutiny,” White wrote.

On the question of how Parliament would treat any bill, White said that although both houses have a majority of members who argued for the UK to remain in the EU, MPs in particular may not want to vote against the will of constituents in favour of leaving the bloc.

Nonetheless, White said Parliament is likely to amend the bill to place conditions on the government before Article 50 can be triggered.

“These could take the form of timing or process requirements – for example, a requirement on the government to provide Parliament with information about its negotiating position before triggering Article 50,” White said.

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About Ben Willis

Ben Willis is a journalist and editor with a varied background reporting on topics including public policy, the environment, renewable energy and international development. His work has appeared in a variety of national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Times, as well as numerous specialist business, policy and consumer publications.

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